Mark Allen and I have just arrived back in Talkeetna after an excellent and fruitful expedition into the Alaska Range on which we made the first ascent of the Northeast Buttress (4,650’ V AI4 M7 A1) of Mt. Laurens (10,042’), off the Southwest fork of the Lacuna Glacier. Mark says that it is “his favorite Alaskan adventure thus far into the range.” A combination of an adventurous approach, exploratory alpinism, and challenging climbing gave the trip a fabulous flavor. The positions looking out over the range were of the most marvelous either of us have witnessed.
We flew with Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxis into a new landing strip in the Ramparts between the Lacuna and Kahiltna Glaciers and then approached 2 days up the Lacuna to the confluence with the Southwest fork (~14km distance). Our research has shown that we were the first people to visit this area with climbing intentions and possible the first people to visit the SW fork at all.
The only information that we were able to ascertain on the peak. Mt. Laurens was from Paul Roderick who flew an Austrian climber, Thomas Bubendorf, into the Yetna Glacier in 1997 where he ascended the Southwest Ridge of the peak in a push, solo. He reportedly named the peak Laurens after his son. This appears to be the only other ascent of the peak, which lies very predominant on the ridgeline running South from The Fin, between the Yetna and Lacuna Glaciers. We have begun referring to this group of peaks running South from the Fin as the “Fin Group”— other than Laurens it also includes Voyager Peak (12,213’, FA 2011 Zimmerman-Allen), The Bats Ears (11,044’ FA 2008 Wilkinson-Turgeon-Gilmore) and another unclimbed peak (10,020’).
Mark and I first sighted the very impressive East face of Mt. Laurens while making the FA of Voyager Peak (12,213’) in 2011. At that point we coined it ‘The Mastodon Face’ and have continued to refer to it as such.
Between May 9th and 15th Mark and I made two attempts on the very precipitous East Buttress of Laurens, getting turned around both times after 1,500 feet of climbing due to blank overhanging walls and very dangerous climbing on an unformed ice hose.
On the evening of the 20th of May we started up the NE buttress. The first half of the route was comprised of difficult mixed sections separated by long sections of excellent steep ice and snow climbing. At the top of this section we bivied on a beautiful prow. The second half gained a steep snow arete that we ascended to the confluence with the north ridge. We continued up the ridge to a second short bivy on top of a bump in the ridge. This bivy was superb, affording excellent views of the Alaska range including of Foraker, Denali, Hunter, and Russell. The ridge both before and after this bivy involved wild unprotected climbing on steep snow in and around huge gargoyle cornices.
The ridge led to the summit plateau where we were caught in a very cold wind storm that forced us to hunker down for 3 very uncomfortable hours in our tent to wait for the short Alaskan night to abate. With the coming of the sun, the wind died and we were able to climb one final pitch of 70 degree snow to the summit.
It seems that the summit of Laurens had not formerly been ground-truthed and we were able to take care of this with our GPS and altimeter. We found the summit to be 10,042 feet.
The descent was taken down the southern margin of the east face following a series of couloirs. We made 12 rappels on ice, snow and rock and were then able to downclimb steep snow for another 2,000 feet to the glacier.
The route took us a total of 67 hours — 59 hours up and 8 hours down.
We then rested for a day and a half before skiing back to our landing strip.
We would like to thank our sponsors: Outdoor Research, Julbo, Sterling Ropes, Second Ascent, Boreal, Petzl, CiloGear, La Sportiva, and Black Diamond.